Germany Bans Smartwatches for Children, Encourages Destroying Them
posted Sunday Nov 19, 2017 by Scott Ertz
The market for kids' wearables is growing and myriad. Every year at CES we encounter at least one company showing off a wearable device that is designed to make kids safer and parents more at ease. Usually they are shaped like a watch, but not all of them offer screens. Most allow a parent to track the child via GPS, some allow parents to communicate with their kids, and some allow parents to listen in on their kids.
This last feature, while uncommon here in the US, has raised concern in Germany. While some helicopter parents have begun listening in on their kids' teachers, the government worries that it could be taken one step farther: espionage. Yes, that's right - the German government is worried about people listening in on all of the top-secret meetings that 8-year-olds are taking.
In reality, the concerns over privacy with these types of devices is legitimate. Several models of these watches, and other IoT transmitters, have been found to transmit and store data unencrypted. This means, especially in the case of children, that it could become really easy to track a child's location or listen to a child's environment, without anyone being the wiser. If the child in question is the kid of a public figure, tracking the child could be like tracking the parent, creating a double security threat.
In addition to banning the sale of these products, the government has encouraged parents to take them from their kids and destroy them. This might be an extreme reaction to a hypothetical problem. In fact, it seems that, rather than banning the devices entirely, perhaps regulations to ensure the safety and security of the data, and the wearer, might make for a better plan. The privacy issues are not limited to kids' smartwatches - in fact they are potentially ever-present in all IoT devices, including adult watches.
Data security is the real topic here, not kids' smartwatches in particular. As a whole, we need to encourage manufacturers of IoT devices to pay more attention to what they are doing, and to respect the privacy of the people who buy their products, not to demonize a single aspect of the industry.